WBAMC sets sights on laser eye clinic
September 5, 2012
FORT BLISS, TEXAS -- It's no guarantee that they won't need glasses.
But laser eye surgery has Army Soldiers lining up for a chance to leave behind their gas mask inserts and enjoy a day at the range without glasses sliding down their sweaty noses.
"There's no such thing as perfect vision," said Frances Sanchez, clinic supervisor of the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
And so a laser eye operation is no guarantee of a life without spectacles -- especially as patients age.
"But a large majority of laser-eye surgery patients go on to function without glasses," said Lt. Col. Daniel Washburn, chief of the WRESP at William Beaumont.
WBAMC is in the process of opening its own Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Clinic -- one of a dozen offered to Army personnel throughout the country.
According to Army Medicine, military personnel perform duties in a variety of operational environments that are poorly suited to wearing standard spectacle glasses or contact lenses. Challenging environments include operating complicated sighting systems, wearing protective masks or night vision goggles and working in the rain, mud and sand.
WRESP's were developed to increase combat readiness.
WBAMC's eye surgery clinic will not be fully operational until later this fall. The clinic is currently using a priority list to focus on Soldiers of combat arms units (special operations, infantry, field artillery, air defense, aviation, engineers and armor battalions).
But the state-of-the-art clinic has already attracted Soldiers at Fort Bliss for the surgeries which can correct vision using the latest in laser technology.
A WaveFront system personalizes the advance CustomVue for each patient according to the unique characteristics of his or her eyes. Equipment in the new clinic is used for both Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK) and Laser Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis (LASIK) surgery procedures.
PRK is a procedure using excimer laser which reshapes the cornea removing micro-thin layers of tissue from the front of the surface. PRK is the most popular eye laser surgery for Army personnel because the procedure does not require the cutting of a flap as with LASIK eye surgery.
LASIK is the most popular eye surgery to correct vision problems in the United States. In LASIK a state-of-the-art Intralase IFS laser is used to make a thin flap in the surface of the cornea. The flap is folded back and the doctor then applies the excimer laser beneath the corneal flap reshaping the cornea. The procedure is done as an all-laser LASIK surgery.
All surgical procedures involve risks, said Sanchez. While time in the actual chair during the eye surgery can last as little as 10 to 15 minutes, the pre-operative evaluations and post-operative follow-ups require more time.
"It is in fact a real surgery. We can control many aspects of the surgical procedure, it's up to the soldiers to comply with the strict post-operative instructions to ensure a successful outcome and proper healing," Sanchez said.
After a laser eye surgery, a Soldier is placed on convalescent leave automatically for 6 days. Soldiers are provided with a profile including the following restrictions:
•For one year sunglasses must be worn outside at all times.
•For one month may not do the following: swim, wear pro-mask or face paint, field duty, staff duty, organized PT, drive military vehicle, work in sunny/windy/dusty area, fire weapon, contact/combat activities, tactical/night operations, receive small pox vaccine.
Soldiers are also expected to keep all scheduled appointments, which are as follows:
•Initial eye exam- up to half a day
•Surgery -- 6 days convalescent leave
•Post-op exams: Day after surgery, at 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months.
This mission-readiness program -- meaning it is not an entitlement program -- is open to all active duty Army personnel. However, as clinics such as the one at WBAMC first open, WRESPs are setting strict criteria for those who can receive laser surgery -- hence, the current restriction to limit surgeries at WBAMC to Soldiers of combat arms units. These restrictions are expected to be lifted shortly after the clinic becomes fully operational.
Laser eye surgery also includes another priority list of requirements including:
•Must be 21 years of age.
•Must have at least 18 months of active duty status after surgery under current service obligations.
•Must have at least three months stabilization after surgery at current duty station with no permanent change of station, schools or deployments.
•Soldier must not be pending any adverse personnel actions (i.e. chapter, flag, medical board, UCMJ). Personnel with any pending adverse actions are not eligible for surgery.
•No contact lenses in eyes for a minimum of 30 days for soft.
•Females must not be pregnant or nursing 6 months before or after refractive eye surgery as it could adversely impact the surgical result.
Appointments are not made until all requirements have been met. Soldiers also have to fill out a history questionnaire and obtain their commander's authorization. Commander's authorization is only valid for 90 days from the date it was signed.
For more information about the WBAMC Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Clinic and its timeline for opening or easing of its restrictions for patients, call (915)742-7051.